Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fending off criticism at home and abroad, said on Tuesday he remained determined to speak before the US Congress next month on Iran's nuclear program.
"I am going to the United States not because I seek a confrontation with the President, but because I must fulfill my obligation to speak up on a matter that affects the very survival of my country," Netanyahu said in a statement.
"I intend to speak about this issue before the March 24th deadline and I intend to speak in the US Congress because Congress might have an important role on a nuclear deal with Iran," he said.
He said Israel had a profound disagreement with the world powers negotiating with Iran because their offer "would enable Iran to threaten Israel's survival".
Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Netanyahu is due to address a joint session of Congress about Iran's nuclear program on March 3, just two weeks before Israeli elections, following an invitation from John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the house.
Boehner's invitation has caused consternation in both Israel and the United States, with detractors saying Netanyahu, a hawk on Iran, is working with the Republicans to thumb their noses at President Barack Obama's policy on Iran.
It is also seen as putting Netanyahu's political links to the Republicans ahead of Israel's nation-to-nation ties with the United States, its strongest and most important ally, while serving as a pre-election campaign booster.
Obama on Monday defended his decision not to meet with Netanyahu during his upcoming Washington visit as following basic protocol of not meeting with world leaders just weeks before an election.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Rightwing organization urges colleagues ‘not to act like the Jewish leaders of the 1930s’
BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF AND JTA February 10, 2015, 6:25 am
T he rightwing Zionist Organization of America suggested Monday that some AmericanJewish groups’ behavior surrounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress is similar to that of the “Jewish leaders of the 1930s,” in reference to the lack of unity and organization in the AmericanJewish community in the years leading up to and during the Holocaust.
ZOA President Morton Klein issued a statement criticizing the AntiDefamation League, president of the Union for Reform Judaism Rabbi Rick Jacobs and J Street for their call to have Netanyahu cancel the speech and the American Jewish Committee and AIPAC for “their deafening silence on the issue.” The PM’s planned address has caused an uproar over the past few weeks. In it, Netanyahu is set to warn against a deal with Iran that would enable it to become a nuclear threshold state. The timing, arrangements and likely content of the speech have infuriated the Obama administration and some congressional Democrats.
The president is strongly pushing for a nuclear deal with Iran through the P5+1 world powers. Klein went on to argue that Iran was a “serious and frightening existential issue for the Jewish State,” and that time to warn of a bad deal with Iran was of the essence. “We must never again be the Jews of appeasement and paralyzing fear. We must publicly state that President Obama is endangering America and Israel by his delaying and delaying on stopping Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.
Klein urged his colleagues from other JewishAmerican groups to support Netanyahu and to provide him with this “major forum to move us, to edify us, to inspire us to do more to stop this Nazilike radical Islamic Republic of Iran from achieving weapons that could murder millions of Jews, Christians, Americans, Europeans and others.” By not supporting Netanyahu, Klein went on, “we are sending a terrible message to Iran that we are not unified and strong in our resolve against this deadly enemy.” “We dare not act like the Jewish leaders of the 1930s. The time to act to support the prime minister of Israel is now.”
Over the weekend, Jacobs, the highest official in Reform Judaism, urged Netanyahu to cancel his upcoming speech to Congress, adding his voice to a growing list of American Jewish leaders calling for him to reconsider the controversial appearance. Jacobs said calling off the March 3 address will be “something people will respect [Netanyahu] for.” In an interview with The Jewish Daily Forward, Jacobs termed the address “illadvised” and a “bad idea.” “I would want him to rethink it,” Jacobs said on Friday. “He should find another way to express his voice.” Abraham Foxman, national director of the AntiDefamation League, and Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, also called on Netanyahu to cancel the address. Foxman, a prominent JewishAmerican leader, said that while Netanyahu’s warnings about Iran were serious, the political furor over the speech “turned the whole thing into a circus.”
“Now is a time to recalibrate, restart and find a new platform and new timing to take away the distractions,” Foxman told the Jewish Daily Forward on Friday. Reich appealed to the prime minister to “bite the bullet and postpone his address.” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, meanwhile, downplayed concerns that Netanyahu’s speech would cause further tension in USIsrael ties. “Israel cannot be a partisan issue,” Hoenlein said. “I do not think the prime minister’s speech will do what people think. He did not come to attack the president or take sides.”
Netanyahu has come under increasing pressure to scrap the speech, both at home and in the US.Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden will not attend the speech or meet with Netanyahu during his visit. Biden’s office announced Friday that he would not attend, claiming he was scheduled to travel abroad at that time.Obama and US Secretary of Kerry said shortly after the speech was announced on January 20 that they would not meet with Netanyahu, citing the proximity to Israeli elections set for March 17. A Channel 10 news report Saturday indicated that some 60 Democratic legislators were expected to stay away from the address.
Netanyahu remains determined to go ahead with the address, to highlight the dangers of a deal that would leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state. “At a time when there are those who would deal with protocol and politics, an agreement with Iran is taking shape in Munich that would risk Israel’s existence,” Netanyahu said on Twitter on Monday, apparently referring to talks over the weekend in the German city between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. “Therefore, I’m determined to travel to Washington and present Israel’s position before Congress and the American people,” he said.
Monday, February 9, 2015
Growing chorus of critics at home and abroad doesn’t dissuade prime minister from US Congress speech
BY AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF February 8, 2015, 10:44 pm| The Times of Israel |
A national leader’s appearance before the US Congress is usually a source of pride and unity. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned trip to Washington — opposed by the White House and many Democrats — has Israel in uproar. The Israeli leader faces growing calls to cancel the visit as rivals accuse him of risking Israel’s relations with the United States in hopes of winning extra votes in next month’s Israeli parliamentary election. But Netanyahu has shown no signs of backing down, saying Sunday he would “do everything” to prevent USled international negotiators from reaching a “bad and dangerous agreement” with Iran over its nuclear program. He reiterated that he would “go anywhere” to warn against Israel’s enemies. The US is Israel’s closest and most important ally. While ties remain strong between the nations, relations between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama are another matter. The two have long had strained personal relations and differ on many policy issues,
with Netanyahu favoring a more confrontational approach to his foes over Obama’s inclination toward diplomacy and compromise. The differences are especially glaring when it comes to the Iranian nuclear issue. Netanyahu has identified a nucleararmed Iran as the single greatest threat to his country and says its nuclear program must be dismantled. Israeli pressure, featuring barely veiled threats to attack Iran if necessary, is credited by many here as having focused world attention on the issue and spurred economic sanctions against Iran. THETIMES Despite pressure, Netanyahu says he'll 'go anywhere' to denounce Iran.
Obama has vowed to prevent Iran from developing a bomb but has signaled he’s willing to tolerate certain activities, such as uranium enrichment, a technology that Israel fears could quickly be diverted for weapons use. The US and five global partners hope to reach a preliminary deal with Iran by March. Cabinet Minister Yisrael Katz, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, acknowledged differences between Netanyahu and Obama over Iran.
“Netanyahu feels that he has been fighting for years and now we are nearing a critical moment,” Katz told Channel 2 TV. Fearful that Obama is about to reach a “bad deal,” Netanyahu jumped at the opportunity to address a joint session of Congress on March 3, two weeks before Israel’s general election. The invitation was issued by the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, and engineered by Netanyahu’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, a former Republican operative. Dermer was set to arrive in Israel Sunday night to consult with Netanyahu about the prime minister’s upcoming US visit.
The decision to speak before Congress has triggered an outpouring of anger in both countries. The White House views the planned visit as a breach of protocol, because it was not coordinated well ahead of time with the US administration, which learned about it just before it was made public. The White House also cited the close proximity of the election as the reason Obama wouldn’t meet Netanyahu, saying the president wanted to avoid the appearance of taking sides. US officials also fear that the speech could upset the delicate talks with Iran. Several Democrats have said they would skip the speech, while others, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have suggested that Netanyahu should postpone it. Biden’s office said the vice president would miss the address.
Despite the stated American intention to stay out of Israeli domestic politics, Biden found the time to meet Netanyahu’s chief rival, Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog, on the sidelines of a security conference in Germany. Abe Foxman, director of the AntiDefamation League, a leading Jewish American group, has urged Netanyahu to call off the visit. The proIsrael lobby group AIPAC also has reservations because it is turning into a partisan event, according to a person involved in U.S.Israel relations.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media. Israeli leaders across the political spectrum almost universally support Netanyahu’s tough line toward Iran. But many opposition figures, including Herzog, have criticized Netanyahu’s handling of the congressional speech, describing it as a cheap election stunt that would only undermine support for Israel in Washington.
Herzog’s running mate, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, said Netanyahu was damaging ties with the US “for the sake of an election speech.” Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said Netanyahu was causing “serious damage” to American ties and urged him to stay home. Even some of Netanyahu’s sympathizers are saying he’s misjudged the situation. “You’re right, but don’t go,” said the headline in a frontpage commentary by columnist BenDror Yemini in the Yediot Ahronot daily. “Obama is wrong and you’re right. But if there is any chance of budging him from his position, then you are making every possible mistake and turning him into an adversary.”
Michael Oren, who served as Netanyahu’s ambassador to Washington until 2013, said that if he were still in the post, he would have advised his boss not to address Congress. “The last thing you want is for support of the Jewish state to become the monopoly of one party,” said Oren, who is now running for parliament with a newly formed centrist party. He said Netanyahu would do better to deliver his speech to the annual conference of AIPAC, which is attended by many members of congress.
“You get the same effect without running the same risk,” he told The Associated Press. Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consulgeneral in New York, called the planned visit a “horrendous idea” that demonstrated how poor Netanyahu’s relationship with Obama has become. Yet he argued that the uproar did serve Netanyahu’s ambition to remain prime minister by focusing public debate on Iran — and away from domestic breadandbutter issues that hurt his party’s chances of retaining power. Recent polls predict a tight race. “This is not about Iran,” he said. “This is 100 percent about elections.”
Friday, February 6, 2015
By HERB KEINON \02/05/2015 18:26| The Jerusalem Post|
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Thursday and extended his condolences to him and the Jordanian people following Islamic State’s grisly murder of captive Jordanian pilot Mouath al-Kaseasbeh.
Netanyahu said that all civilized people were “shocked by this barbaric cruelty, which the world must fight.”
Thursday’s phone call marks the first time the two have spoken since they met in Amman in November, together with US Secretary of State John Kerry, at the height of tension surrounding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
It is unlikely the Prime Minister’s Office would have released a read-out of the call without the approval of the Royal Palace in Jordan which, apparently, had no qualms about the call being made public even on a day when the country’s pilots were carrying out sorties against Islamic State positions in Syria.
During their conversation,Netanyahu noted the importance of the “joint commitment to maintaining the status quo at the holy sites.” He also mentioned the importance of Jordan’s decision earlier this week to send back to Israel its ambassador, Walid Obeidat, recalled in November.
Thursday, February 5, 2015
After brutal execution of Jordanian pilot, lawmakers support legislation increasing assistance to the Hashemite Kingdom
BY AP February 4, 2015, 6:52 pm| The Times of Israel |
WASHINGTON — Congressional support built Wednesday for increased US military assistance to Jordan following a video purporting to show
Islamic State militants burning a captured Jordanian air force pilot to death. West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said Jordan’s King Abdullah II —
who met with lawmakers and with President Barack Obama on Tuesday — must be given “all of the military equipment” he needs to combat the group.
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he expected his panel to swiftly approve legislation. “We’ll be looking at legislation
we can pass rapidly,” McCain told CNN. “We’ve got to get them the weapons they need,” especially sophisticated weaponry McCain said the U.S. has been slow
to provide. In the current year, the United States is providing Jordan with $1 billion in economic and military assistance.
The Defense Department is also giving an unspecified amount of help to Jordan to secure its border with Syria. Islamic militants have grabbed significant
swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. McCain repeated his criticism that the Obama administration has “no strategy” for dealing with the Islamic State group.
He said he hoped the video of the death of the Jordanian air force pilot, Lt. Muaz Kasasbeh, will galvanize not only U.S. leadership but “the Arab world.” Manchin
said that at Tuesday’s session with the king Abdullah did not ask for ground troops. On the House side, Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, RTexas,
said the king “expressed frustration that it takes so long for our bureaucracy to get help to him.”
“I think we have to support the leaders … who are trying to encourage Muslim leaders to reclaim their religion,” Thornberry said. Appearing Wednesday morning with Manchin on
MSNBC, Thornberry said he hopes the death of the 26yearold Jordanian pilot has an impact on the West because “that sort of cruelty is pretty unimaginable for most of us.” Obama
hosted Abdullah at the White House for a hastily arranged meeting, hours after the video emerged online. Abdullah, who was on a previously scheduled trip to Washington, arrived after
nightfall and made no remarks to reporters as he and Obama sat side by side in the Oval Office. In the meeting, Obama offered “his deepest condolences” to the king over the pilot’s death,
the White House said.
“The president and King Abdullah reaffirmed that the vile murder of this brave Jordanian will only serve to steel the international community’s resolve to destroy ISIL,” said White House
spokesman Alistair Baskey, using an acronym for the extremist group. Kasasbeh, who fell into the hands of the militants in December when his Jordanian F16 crashed in Syria, is the only
pilot from the USled coalition to have been captured to date. His death sparked outrage in Jordan, where the country’s participation in the coalition against the Islamic State group has not been popular.
The video emerged following a weeklong drama over a possible prisoner exchange with an alQaida operative imprisoned in Jordan.
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
By JNS.ORG |02/04/2015 15:57 | The Jerusalem Post|
Since its founding in 2006, CUFI has held more than 2,100 pro-Israel events, sent hundreds of thousands of advocacy emails to government officials, and trained thousands of college students.
“Usually after the first event, it’s like a firestorm,” said Pastor Scott Thomas, the Florida state director for Christians United for Israel (CUFI). “The excitement hits, the understanding settles in.”
That, in short, illustrates the process through which CUFI has become America’s largest pro-Israel organization in less than a decade of existence. In January, CUFI announced that its membership surpassed the 2-million mark. (The organization defines members as email-list subscribers whose addresses do not produce bounce-backs when messaged.)
Since its founding in 2006, CUFI has held more than 2,100 pro-Israel events, sent hundreds of thousands of advocacy emails to government officials, and trained thousands of college students to make the case for Israel across the US.
Pastor John Hagee, CUFI’s founder and national chairman, said that when he called 400 Evangelical Christian leaders to San Antonio in 2006 to pitch them on the idea of CUFI, he thought his concept of pro-Israel programming that would “not be conversionary in any sense of the word” might deter the leaders. Instead, when he asked them to raise their hands if they accepted his proposal, “400 men raised their hands with an absolute unity that was breathtaking.”
“It was one of those surreal moments that was difficult to believe had happened so effortlessly, and Christians United for Israel took off,” Hagee told JNS.org at the 10th annual CUFI Leadership Summit in San Antonio on Jan. 27.
While Hagee planned for the initial group of 400 leaders to advocate for Israel on Capitol Hill that summer as a “test group,” the leaders spread the word among their own churches, and CUFI ended up bringing 3,500 people on the mission to Washington, DC.
CUFI continues to grow exponentially, but Hagee isn’t satisfied. He said the organization hopes to double its membership to 4 million over the next two to three years.
“We are very delighted with our 2 million-plus membership base, but we want it to be many multiples of that,” said Hagee. “We feel that it’s imperative [to understand] that our ability to go to Washington representing 8-10 million people would be considerably greater than just 2 million.”
What’s the secret behind CUFI’s growth?
“It kind of happens organically,” Thomas, the Florida state director, told JNS.org. “It happens from all different angles. We’ll get a phone call from somebody who attends a congregation and says, ‘Hey, I would like for my pastor to receive information about CUFI.’ And so we’ll send out information packets to those pastors to start the conversation. We’ll introduce them to CUFI, tell them what the events are like and what CUFI stands for. And then hopefully beyond that, we’ll be able to generate a follow-up phone call, introduce CUFI [to the pastor] verbally, answer any questions he might have, and find out what his perspective and stance and theology are on Israel.”
From there, CUFI offers to host a “Standing with Israel” event at that pastor’s church, an approximately hour-long educational and informational session on the biblical roots of Christian support for Israel as well as current events in the Middle East. Eventually, the goal is to facilitate a larger program called “A Night to Honor Israel”—CUFI’s signature event, which the organization aims to host in every major US city each year.
“A Night to Honor Israel,” however, significantly predates CUFI. Hagee said that in 1981, he sought to organize the event as a one-time gesture to thank Israel for bombing Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor. But then Hagee received death threats, as well as a bomb threat to the venue on the night of the event. His response? More than three decades of Nights to Honor Israel.
“I told my wife, we’re going to do a Night to Honor Israel until these anti-Semitic rednecks get used to it,” Hagee said. “And 34 years later, it has grown all over the nation.”
Pastor Tim Burt, CUFI’s Minnesota state director, recalled that CUFI began to gain momentum in that state after “a very effective and successful Night to Honor Israel.”
“I identified leaders in cities that very much had a passion for the support of Israel, and I began to meet with those leaders, raising up city leaders [for CUFI] throughout Minnesota… and [discussing] how they could have an impact within their city and spheres of influence,” Burt told JNS.org.
CUFI has now three-dozen city leaders in Minnesota. After CUFI took 16 pastors of African-rooted Minnesota churches on a trip to Israel last year, one of the pastors on that trip organized a trip of his own for 16 more pastors.
“It’s starting to snowball in that respect,” Burt said.
Aiding the “snowball effect” for CUFI is America’s predominantly Christian population. Former Minnesota congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, who attended the CUFI Leadership Summit, noted the “growing market” and “strong foundation” for Christian support of Israel.
“I think in light of the attacks and the aggressiveness that we see against the Jewish state, we’re going to see more and more Christians who are going to see a vehicle wherein they can demonstrate their support for the Jewish state, and I think Christians United for Israel is that obvious vehicle,” Bachmann told JNS.org.
Before CUFI, despite the presence of a “reservoir of instinctive support for Israel” in America, that base of support “had a hard time finding a way to express itself,” said CUFI board member Gary Bauer, the US Under Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan.
“As CUFI was set up, and Pastor Hagee and [his wife] Diana had this vision, and others joined with them, and then as time passed and people saw us speaking up, whether the president was a Republican or a Democrat, or whether there was Republican Congress or a Democratic Congress, I think the word spread,” Bauer told JNS.org. “If you were pro-Israel, if you care about the alliance between these two great nations, and you want to do something, but you live in Toledo or Knoxville or Birmingham or Sacramento… this is the organization you can invest in and feel confident that you’re not going to wake up one morning and see an embarrassing story.”
Pastor Victor Styrsky, CUFI’s eastern regional coordinator, echoed Bauer’s sentiment.
“We’d bring Jews and Christians together [before CUFI existed],” Styrsky told JNS.org. “We didn’t call them Nights to Honor Israel, but we were doing those, and rallies, and we were emptying savings accounts, running full-page ads, and we had no CUFI to keep it going, so we would literally disappear for years.”
Styrsky said that now, when he speaks to pastors on behalf of CUFI, “Almost always at the end of 45 minutes to an hour, we see the light bulbs go off, and a new journey has begun. … That’s how we keep going.”
Inclusiveness is also part of growth strategy at CUFI, which is “not targeting a specific demographic in terms of ethnicity,” said Pastor Dumisani Washington, the organization’s diversity outreach coordinator.
“My job is to begin to reach out to everyone, and try our best to let them know that we want them here, and let them know that there’s a home here for whoever they are ethnically, if they are standing with Israel as Christians,” Washington said.
Bauer said CUFI supporters “can come to the table with all kinds of faith perspectives, and in some cases with no faith perspective at all.”
“We take those allies wherever we can get them, but we continue to do our harvesting in the church community, where we know there’s a natural predilection or bias towards standing with Israel based on the teachings of the Christian faith,” he said.
Kasim Hafeez, who addressed the CUFI Leadership Summit crowd on his jihadist-turned-Zionist personal story, offered an outsider’s perspective on both the success of CUFI and why the organization is a frequent target of anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic criticism.
“Here’s why [anti-Semites] hate CUFI, and one simple word explains it all: fear,” Hafeez said.
While anti-Semites believe they can easily bully Jews, he said, CUFI’s mobilization of the much larger Christian community is more imposing.
“What the haters didn’t see was 2015, over 2 million Christians praying for Israel… Mark my words, there is no organization, there are no four letters, that will make an anti-Semite’s blood run cold more than C-U-F-I,” said Hafeez.
Moving forward, how will CUFI meet its aforementioned goal of doubling its membership to 4 million within three years?
“The specific step that we will have to take is to raise the funds to hire more regional directors and state directors,” Hagee told JNS.org. “We need more people in the field meeting and training pastors and concerned Christians how to become a leader in this organization for the benefit of Israel.”
CUFI is also bolstering its overseas presence, with plans to start a United Kingdom branch. Hagee said that in the UK, CUFI would combat anti-Semitism by soliciting the help of spiritual and government leaders “to look this evil tidal wave eye to eye and call it what it is, and get people to admit that a very lackadaisical attitude toward the Jewish people and Israel have created this monster that must be addressed.”
Hagee emphasized the biblical mandate to fight anti-Semitism, quoting the verse from Isaiah 61, “For Zion’s sake, I will not keep quiet, and for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not be silent.”
“The message here is that Christians are to speak out, publicly, in defense of the Jewish people and the state of Israel, that we are authorized to combat anti-Semitism as aggressively as we possibly can,” said Hagee.
He added, “If you took away the Jewish contribution from Christianity, there would be no Christianity, so fundamentally, Christians owe the Jewish people everything. Period. Once a person sees that, he’s committed to take action in defense of the Jewish people.”
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
By JPOST.COM STAFF \02/03/2015 08:35| The Jerusalem Post|
European diplomats have told Israeli officials in recent days that the United States and Iran are moving closer to an agreement that would allow the Islamic Republic to keep a large number of centrifuges in return for guaranteeing regional stability, Army Radio is reporting on Tuesday.
According to EU officials, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have discussed increasing the number of centrifuges which Iran would be permitted to keep. In exchange, the Iranians would undertake an obligation to bring their influence to bear in order to ensure quiet in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.
European diplomats are quoted by Israeli officials as saying that the US in recent weeks has made significant concessions in its talks with Iran, so much so that it is willing to permit Tehran to operate 6,500 centrifuges while lifting sanctions that have hurt its economy this past decade.
The Europeans have told the Israelis that these concessions were offered in exchange for Iranian promises to maintain regional stability. According to Army Radio, the EU is opposed to the proposed linkage between the nuclear issue and other geopolitical matters. In fact, the Europeans suspect that Washington is operating behind Brussels’ back and that Kerry has not bothered to keep them in the loop in his talks with Zarif.
Israel is concerned that the Obama administration’s willingness to allow Iran to keep centrifuges would in effect render Tehran a “nuclear threshold state,” enabling it to assemble a nuclear bomb within months if it so chooses. Such a scenario is unacceptable to the Israelis.
This is not the first time in recent days that reports have emerged regarding American concessions to Iran in the nuclear negotiations.
“That’s complete nonsense,” a senior US official told The Jerusalem Post, responding to a report by Channel 10 on Friday.
The United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany are negotiating with Iran toward a comprehensive agreement over its nuclear program, hoping to clinch a political framework by the end of March.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been working the phones with Democratic lawmakers in Washington to temper their concerns over the political nature of his speech to a joint session of Congress, scheduled for March 3. The latest deadline for a final settlement is June 30.
The urgency of the matter – and not partisan politics – is what motivated Netanyahu to violate diplomatic protocol and accept the Republican leadership’s invitation to address Congress on the need for more sanctions against Iran, Channel 10 quotes officials in Jerusalem as saying.
The White House says it will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and both the prime minister and the US president say that no deal at the negotiating table is better than a bad one.
The standards for a bad deal remain hotly contested between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, growing frustrated with hard-line resistance to a nuclear deal, accused opponents of effectively “cheering on” the other side in the grueling negotiations with world powers.
Rouhani, faced with rising popular concern over his unfulfilled election pledges to fix the economy, blamed hard-line interference in part for the talks’ halting progress.
“The other side applauds their own, but here in our country, it is not clear what [the critics] are doing. It is as if they are cheering on the rival team,” Rouhani he told a public gathering, quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
“And when we ask them what they are going, they answer: ‘We are criticizing and criticism is a good thing... This is not criticism, it is sabotage of national interests and favor for partisan politics,” he said.
“Criticism is not about booing, it is not about slander and character assassination. Criticism is about showing a better and clearer way so that [we can] reach our goals faster.”
Hard-line sentiment is centered in the security establishment led by the Revolutionary Guards and in the powerful Shi’ite clergy.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ultimate political authority, has so far backed the nuclear talks but has also continued to denounce foreign “enemies” and “the Great Satan” to reassure hard-liners for whom anti-US sentiment has always been integral to the Islamic Revolution.
Monday, February 2, 2015
By HERB KEINON \02/01/2015 12:03| The Jerusalem Post|
In an apparent reference to the air strike on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights last month that killed Hezbollah’s Jihad Mughniyeh and a ranking Iranian general, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel has proven “nobody is immune from our intention to foil attacks against us.”
Taking action against those planning to attack Israel has been the government’s policy in the past and will continue to be how Israel will act in the future, he said. This was the closest Netanyahu has come to admitting Israeli involvement in the June 18 air strike.
Hezbollah last week retaliated for that attack, killing two IDF soldiers and wounding seven others along the Lebanese border.
Netanyahu, speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, ignored the current scandal accusations swirling around him and his wife and said Israel faces security threats from numerous directions.
“The State of Israel is threatened on many fronts,” he said.
Referring to the terrorist attacks in Sinai over the last few days that have killed at least 30 Egyptians, the prime minister said Israel is witnessing how the terrorist organizations are working just beyond its southern border.
“We also have seen Iran’s attempts to open another front against us on the Golan Heights in addition to the one it operates against us in southern Lebanon,” he added.
In a related development, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told reporters before the cabinet meeting that the Iranian nuclear issue is critical to Israel’s security and future, and for that reason Israel is obligated to make its voice heard on the matter.
Steinitz was referring to the controversy surrounding Netanyahu’s invitation to address a joint session of the US Congress in March.
Steinitz said the claim that the circumstances surrounding the invitation is causing irreparable damage to US-Israel ties is about as serious as the brouhaha over Sarah Netanyahu’s alleged cashing in on bottled- drink deposits.
“In another two months, after the elections when Netanyahu forms the next government, you will see that there was no reduction in the friendly strategic, defense intelligence ties with the US and that they will be what they were despite the commotion that some are trying to create during the election campaign,” he said.
Friday, January 30, 2015
Sanctions to be imposed if deal isn’t reached; legislators tell Obama they will not push bill until end of March
BY AP January 29, 2015, 7:30 pm | The Times of Israel|
W ASHINGTON — A bill that would levy tough new sanctions on Iran if it fails to sign an agreement to curb its nuclear program
cleared a Senate committee on Thursday. But lawmakers are holding off on a full Senate vote to see whether diplomatic negotiations
yield a deal. Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee voted 184 to pass the
bill aimed at ramping up economic pressure on Iran starting in July if it doesn’t ink an international deal preventing it from having the
capability to develop a nuclear weapon. Republicans still can move ahead, but that’s unlikely without Democratic support. They wouldn’t
have enough votes to override President Barack Obama, who says he’ll veto the legislation because it would derail the diplomatic effort to
reach a deal. The US and other nations negotiating with Tehran have long suspected Iran’s nuclear program is secretly aimed at atomic weapons
capability. Tehran insists the program is entirely devoted to civilian purposes. Talks with Tehran have been extended until July, with the goal of
reaching a framework for a deal by the end of March. Iran’s staterun IRNA news service said Wednesday that Iranian lawmakers have proposed a
bill that would scuttle the diplomatic effort if the US imposed new US sanctions. The US bill would not impose any new sanctions during the remaining
timeline for negotiations. It says that if there is no deal by July 6, the sanctions that were eased during negotiations would be reinstated. After that,
sanctions would be stepped up every month. The committee also voted to amend the bill to include a statement that Israel, an archenemy of Iran,
has a right to defend itself. Other amendments to the bill that passed allow Congress to vote on any deal approved with Iran; beef up reporting requirements
for verifying that Iran is complying with any agreement reached and task the Treasury Department to report on the economic impact of sanctions relief on Iran.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
By MICHAEL WILNER \01/28/2015 20:24| The Jerusalem Post|
WASHINGTON -- The United States "strongly condemned" Hezbollah's rocketing of Israeli territory on Wednesday with anti-tank munitions, killing two IDF soldiers and wounding seven others.
"The United States strongly condemns Hezbollah’s attack today on Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) near the border between Lebanon and Israel," said Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman, "in blatant violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701."
"We don’t have information on what munitions were used by Hezbollah," Vasquez added, when asked for comment on Hezbollah's alleged use of sophisticated anti-tank, Russian-made Kornet rockets.
On Tuesday, the State Department warned against "escalation" on Israel's northern border, after Syrian positions fired into the Golan Heights. The Israeli air force returned fire on Syrian Army positions overnight.
United Nations Resolution 1701 codified a ceasefire over the blue line between Israel and Lebanon after Israel's conflict with Hezbollah in 2006.
"We support Israel's legitimate right to self defense," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday, urging both parties to "respect the blue line between Israel and Lebanon."
"We also of course condemn the act of violence, and will be watching the situation closely," Psaki said.
The Israeli military authorities have been on high alert the last 10 days following the attack on a convoy carrying Hezbollah and Iranian officials on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights earlier this month.
Hezbollah has vowed to avenge the attack, which it blames on Israel.
Following the anti-tank missile, mortar shells launched from Syria were fired at IDF positions on Har Dov and the Hermon Mountain.
The army evacuated dozens of people from the Hermon Mountain. A home in the Israeli border town of Kafr Rajar was damaged by a mortar shell.
The officer and soldier killed in the Hezbollah attack on the Lebanese border were named on Wednesday as Cap. Yohai Kalangel, 25 from Har Gilo, a company commander in the Tsavar Battalion and Sgt. Dor Haim Nini of the same battalion, a 20 year old from Shtulim who will be posthumously promoted to the rank of Staff-Sergeant.